Traders fearing car ban call on council for more support

Cork business owners make case as council adopts budget and pledges initiatives for city.

Traders fearing car ban call on council for more support

Traders in Cork city worried about the impact of the afternoon car ban on St Patrick’s St have called for more practical support from City Hall as councillors adopted the city’s 2019 budget last night.

Several independent business owners attended the city council’s budget meeting, which saw councillors vote 27-3 to adopt the €166.8m spend, a €6m increase on this year, and to not increase commercial rates or parking charges.

And while they welcomed the free late-night weekend parking initiative announced on Monday, they said more needs to be done following what one trader described as the “latest attack” on city centre business — the reintroduction of the 3pm to 6.30pm daily bus lane on the city’s main street.

Susan Ryan, a beauty therapist who was in court last week for rates arrears, said a practical measure such as vouched parking might encourage shoppers to return to the city centre.

“We city traders need a level playing field to compete with the suburban shopping centres which are drawing people out of the city because of free parking and ease of access,” she said.

“Even a couple of hours of parking during the day would be a good start.”

John Grace, of John Grace’s Fried Chicken, who was not allowed access to the meeting because he did not have photo ID, as required under strict access protocols, said the traders voicing concerns about the so-called ‘Pana ban’ deserve more respect.

“If we were a teachers’ union or a farmers’ union, we’d be listened to and talked about better afterwards,” he said.

“We’re being talked about as being selfish and greedy and that our interests are self-centred but I don’t think you can express your worry for your livelihood any other way than in a self-centred way.

It takes a lot of courage to come out and speak about it — the desperation in the city is putting people in this position.

In her report to councillors, council chief executive Ann Doherty said the budget provides a reasonable balance across competing objectives but provides funding measures to address strategically important areas.

She said City Hall will continue to work with various business groups to develop and implement initiatives designed to make the city more attractive and she said a rates incentive scheme, aimed at small to medium enterprises which account for 57% of ratepayers, will continue.

The grant will be 3% of the annual rate bill up to a maximum of €4,000, with qualifying account holders having the grant applied automatically as a credit to their account in 2020.

However, in order to qualify, ratepayers must have their account settled in full by November 30, 2019, and have no outstanding arrears.

The budget, which was approved with the support of Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, Fine Gael, and independents after just 80 minutes of debate, includes:

  • An additional €2.1m for housing, and a target to reduce to 100 the number of voids, or vacant council homes, by the end of 2019;
  • An extra €1.4m for homeless services;
  • The appointment of four new housing officers and one vacant homes officer;
  • The appointment of three new building inspectors who inspect the quality of private rented accommodation;
  • An extra €2.6m for roads and transportation, with €2m being spent on the Lower Glanmire Rd;
  • An extra €1m in corporate and external affairs;
  • The continuation of the city’s €600,000 economic development fund.

Fianna Fáil councillor Sean Martin welcomed the increased spending, particularly in housing, but said councillors will have to listen to those in the city who are raising ‘red flags’.

Sinn Féin councillor Thomas Gould welcomed the increased funding for homeless services.

Fine Gael councillor John Buttimer said the city had made huge strides in the last five years, with its budget increasing from €155m in 2015 to €166m next year.

Solidarity councillors Fiona Ryan and Marion O’Sullivan and Workers’ Party councillor Ted Tynan said they could not support the budget while there are still so many people struggling to make ends meet.

Last night’s budget meeting was the last of this council, ahead of May’s local election, and the last before the extension of the city boundary also next May, when the city will increase five-fold to include areas such as Ballincollig, Cork Airport, Blarney, and Glanmire.

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